by Eliza R. Williams
Upon entering the first gallery, the viewer’s gaze wanders from amorphous, human-size sculptures to large works on paper to three mesmerizing ceramic slabs that lean against the right wall. There are no colors competing for attention in this space. The monochromatic pieces emphasize the patterns and shapes that appear throughout, and they serve as a rest between notes in a carefully designed experience meant to spur contemplation and evoke emotion.
Throughout the exhibition, there are moments of deep serenity, of controlled chaos, and occasions when those extremes blend into one another. The Akron Art Museum’s originally curated “Jun Kaneko: Blurred Lines” mimics the complexity of the human experience, taking the viewer on a journey that expertly portrays the themes present in this unique collection of artworks rarely viewed by the public.
Moving through the first space, color enters the periphery. To the left, a doorway frames two heads that face each other. The bold sculptures are placed uncomfortably close together, creating a palpable tension between the two pieces. Kaneko’s sumi ink and oil stick paintings adorn the walls surrounding the imposing sculptures.
Like much of the work in this exhibition, Jun Kaneko’s heads are untitled. Image courtesy of Colin Conces.
To the right, a colorful display draws the viewer toward the largest room in the Arnstein galleries, which holds Kaneko’s “Mirage,” a 65-foot site-specific installation. The piece pulls the viewer forward to journey down a large painting composed of vertical lines created by the controlled dripping of paint, from vibrant yellows to pinks.
Before exiting the space, the viewer is confronted with another piece divergent from Kaneko’s well-known style. The piece, “Parallel Sound,” is made from industrially extruded ceramic roof tiles, which the artist glazed and stacked in geometric, parallel lines. This piece uses negative space as an additional component, which gives the work both a sense of solidity and translucency.
From this vantage point, the 65-foot site specific installation entitled “Mirage” can be seen through the negative space in “Parallel Sound”. Photo by Eliza R. Williams.
The last room explores yet another component of Kaneko’s personality and style. These fun, quirky little sculptures are playful in color and form, and are welcome after the somewhat intense experience of the previous gallery space. The drawings in this room are created with a looser hand, and they add to the sense of relief felt after leaving the frenzied energy of “Mirage.”
The artist repaired this damaged sculpture with golden dust using the 15th century Japanese art of Kintsugi. Photo by Eliza R. Williams.
The curatorial approach to this exhibition was unique in itself. Mark Masuoka, John S. Knight Director at Akron Art Museum and curator of the exhibition, worked closely with the prep team at the museum to make intuitive and exact decisions along the way that would influence the viewer as they journey through the space. He intentionally included large and small sculptures, as well as works on paper to highlight Kaneko’s exploration of different mediums throughout his career. He wanted to create a show that Kaneko himself would have organized, and to give viewers a deeper understanding of the artist beyond his more well-known works.
It is the curator’s personal relationship with Kaneko that provided a deeper understanding of the artist’s process and informed the themes that stand out in this exhibition.
The artist and Masuoka met over thirty years ago, when Masuoka participated in a workshop led by Kaneko in Hawaii. Kaneko was teaching at Cranbrook Academy of Art and Masuoka, a young artist at the time, was contemplating where he would land for graduate school. Masuoka went on to attend Cranbrook and engaged more deeply with Kaneko while working as his studio assistant, a formative period in Masuoka’s life.
“When you work with someone as a studio assistant you learn a lot about their art, but you also spend a lot of time with the person. You become part of their family,” Masuoka says.
Kaneko’s process is partly informed by the sheer volume of work he creates, allowing him to experiment with technique, shape, and form at a rapid pace. Working as a studio assistant meant seven day work weeks, and twelve to fourteen hour days.
In observing his paintings, drawings, or application of glaze on the ceramic sculptures, consistent themes become evident. The simple, geometric shapes and architectural elements represent tension between Eastern and Western cultures, dark and light, past and present, that inform Kaneko’s own identity as a Japanese person living in the United States for almost fifty years.
Kaneko’s work blurs the boundaries between genres and cultures. This carefully curated exhibition is timely representation of the complex world we live in today. As Masuoka notes, “it’s not that black and white.”
Friday, February 16, 6-9 pm
“Jun Kaneko: Blurred Lines” Opening Reception (FREE)
Members-only preview at 6:30 pm, Open to the public at 7 pm
Akron Art Museum, 1 South High St
Eliza R. Williams primarily writes emails, grants, and papers for her graduate program at Weatherhead School of Management. When she grows up, she wants to be a journalist.
(Featured photo by Eliza R. Williams.)